Definition of idle in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈīdl/

adjective (idler, idlest)

1(Especially of a machine or factory) not active or in use: assembly lines standing idle for lack of spare parts
More example sentences
  • But establishing aviation records was one thing - an idle factory was another.
  • System Restore is a new feature that backs up vital system files when the machine is idle, by default taking a system snapshot every 10 hours.
  • Factories are idle, and small shopkeepers have been squeezed out of business.
inactive, unused, unoccupied, unemployed, disused;
not in use, out of use, out of action, inoperative, nonfunctioning, out of service
1.1(Of a person) not working; unemployed.
Example sentences
  • The most talented among them had been creamed off for local-government jobs, leaving the rest idle.
  • While there has been a break in activities and a good rest the team have not been completely idle.
  • As an early principal she was scarcely idle, and that was the way she wanted it.
unemployed, jobless, out-of-work, redundant, between jobs, workless, unwaged, unoccupied
1.2(Of a person) avoiding work; lazy.
Example sentences
  • They always claim to work hard, but in truth they're nothing but lazy idle sluggards!
  • The government hasn't done anything to help students, they are perceived as lazy and idle where they go to university to socialise, that's not the case.
  • I also believed that children weren't lazy, idle, unmotivated, all the usual list of adjectives the oppressor puts on the oppressed.
lazy, indolent, slothful, work-shy, shiftless, inactive, sluggish, lethargic, listless;
slack, lax, lackadaisical, good-for-nothing
rare otiose
1.3 [attributive] (Of time) characterized by inaction or absence of significant activity: at no time in the day must there be an idle moment
More example sentences
  • The other day, I was feeling around my mouth with my tongue in an idle moment.
  • The girls act and react naturally playing volleyball, sometimes eating a mouth full of sand on missed dive returns or just stretching during idle moments.
  • You would always remember Alami, and you would do the things that she might have spoken of in an idle moment, as every memory twisted in your heart.
unoccupied, spare, empty, vacant, unfilled, available
1.4(Of money) held in cash or in accounts paying no interest.
Example sentences
  • As treasurer of EMC, the data storage company, she puts a chunk of her company's idle cash into money funds nearly every day.
  • Gold prices overseas have been rising as a large amount of idle money flowed into the gold markets worldwide due to the weak dollar.
  • Only ultra-wealthy geeks like Allen, who have the interest and the idle cash, can afford to put millions at risk.
2Without purpose or effect; pointless: he did not want to waste valuable time in idle chatter
More example sentences
  • That was the whole purpose of the idle chatter, to keep the minds of the courtiers from overthrowing the dynasty.
  • Many other females made him irritable because of their continuous idle chatter and senseless conversation.
  • I guess I felt that my mind was shriveled up with idle chatter and shallow talk.
frivolous, trivial, trifling, vain, minor, petty, lightweight, shallow, superficial, insignificant, unimportant, worthless, paltry, niggling, peripheral, inane, fatuous;
unnecessary, time-wasting
2.1(Especially of a threat or boast) without foundation: I knew Ellen did not make idle threats
More example sentences
  • Recent suggestions that we'll see return of the stiletto has been dismissed by fashion critics as an idle threat from the catwalks in Europe and New York this year.
  • Perhaps sensing that this was not an idle threat, the protests immediately tapered off.
  • Barton's words were ‘potentially not just an idle threat’ and the Armed Response Unit went to see the defendant.
empty, meaningless, pointless, worthless, vain, hollow, insubstantial, futile, ineffective, ineffectual;
groundless, baseless


[no object]
1(Of a person) spend time doing nothing; be idle: four men were idling outside the shop
More example sentences
  • Every day, open-backed trucks enter the city packed with families and their possessions - refugees returning home from years spent idling in Pakistan and Iran.
  • Having spent days idling in Shanghai, China's largest city, the players had never imagined the match would be so brutal and physical, especially in the second half.
  • Actually, the movie is set in the hotels and clubs of contemporary Tokyo, as the characters spend much of their time idling while waiting to complete their singular obligations.
do nothing, be inactive, vegetate, take it easy, mark time, twiddle one's thumbs, kill time, languish, laze, lounge, loll, loaf, loiter
informal hang around, veg out, bum around, lollygag
1.1Move aimlessly or lazily: Cal idled past MetroHealth at a stately pace
More example sentences
  • Which is fine when we're idling along, watching the world change through Alexander's eyes, but makes the ending feel rushed, as if time was running out too quickly for anyone to think of anything better.
  • The excruciatingly beautiful clockwork ballerina's not by the Tate, which, though tragic, merely leaves me still idling along with no goal.
  • Booth's Steel were idling along in eighth spot at this time.
1.2(Of an engine) run slowly while disconnected from a load or out of gear: the car is noisily idling in the street
More example sentences
  • A line of cars clogs the tree-lined street, engines idling in the sun.
  • Anthony sighed, leaving the car engine idling.
  • With that capability, a car's engine could be automatically shut off at stoplights, or any time the engine is idling for any length of time.
1.3 [with object] Cause (an engine) to idle.
Example sentences
  • He pulled up hard into the vertical and idled the engines, diminishing any heat source from the F - 22.
  • Under the proposed bylaw, drivers would be fined $100 for idling their engines for more than three minutes.
1.4 [with object] North American Take out of use or employment: he will close the newspaper, idling 2,200 workers
More example sentences
  • The owner of the Sago Mine, where 12 men died after an explosion last year, said Wednesday it has idled the coal operation because of high production costs and weak prices.
  • The Tennessee Valley Authority said its Browns Ferry No.1 nuclear reactor in Athens was idled Saturday for continued testing following a 22-year shutdown.
  • Russian secret service personnel, idled by the withering of Russia's global presence, resort to private business or are re-deployed by the state to spy on industrial and economic secrets in order to aid budding Russian multinationals.

Phrasal verbs

idle something away

Spend one’s time doing nothing or very little.
Example sentences
  • The Raiders spent the rest of the night idling their time away beside a roaring campfire.
  • He is also making great play of the Prince's Trust, appalled as he is by the thought of people idling their days away, never doing an honest day's work in their lives.
  • He was idling the day away at the bait pond with his Dad when the big fish gobbled on his worms.


Old English īdel 'empty, useless'; related to Dutch ijdel 'vain, frivolous, useless' and German eitel 'bare, worthless'.

  • Old English īdel included the sense ‘empty, useless’: it was often found in the combination idle yelp ‘boasting’. However, the sense ‘lazy’ or ‘with nothing to do’ was inherent in the original meanings of the word.

Words that rhyme with idle

bridal, bridle, fratricidal, genocidal, germicidal, homicidal, idol, infanticidal, insecticidal, intertidal, matricidal, parricidal, patricidal, pesticidal, regicidal, sidle, suicidal, tidal, tyrannicidal, uxoricidal

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: i·dle

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